NHS comparisons

  • David Cameron’s argument that the NHS is not up to European standards – 19 January 2011
  • Commonwealth Fund investigation into the performance of different health services - June 2010

As justification for reforming the NHS, David Cameron told the House of Commons in January 2011:

“This country now has European levels of health spending but does not have European levels of success in our health service.”

Health systems are complex things, and it is almost inevitable that some healthcare systems will be stronger in some areas than others.

For Cameron’s claim to be true in any meaningful sense, the NHS must be falling behind the gealth systems of other countries consistently.

However it isn’t. In fact it performs very well. The 2010 report from the Coomonwealth Fund, a privately-funded American research organisation found that:

  • Fewer Britons (37%) thought their health system needed anything more than ‘minor changes’ than the French (58%), Germany (62%), Netherlands (48%) Norway (58%), Sweden (53%) or Switzerland (52%).
  • Of those countries, the UK had  the highest confidence (92%) that if they became seriously ill they would get most-effective treatment, including drugs and diagnostic tests.
  • the UK had the highest confidence that patients would be able to afford care
  • The UK did better than France, Germany, Norway and Sweden on securing a same or next day appointment, though worse than Netherlands or Switzerland
  • Fewer Britons found it difficult to get non-emergency care on nights, weekends and holidays than patients from France, Germany, Norway Sweden or Switzerland, although more did than Dutch patients
  • A higher proportion of Britons rated care they received from a doctor in the last 12 months as very good or excellent than patients from any other European countries.

On metric after metric in the report, the UK falls between middling-to-top to top in the rankings not just in Europe but across the world.

The data only allows one conclusion – that it is impossible to generalise that the UK:

“Does not have European levels of success in our health service.”

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